What if the rest of the world gets it?

“I can never come to terms with a person who claims to be a man of God, spewing forth the hatred which we have seen this week in the USA….

The hate-filled pastor’s website claims he has no college education but he does have a good memory – by way of his committing to memory well over 100 chapters of the Bible, including almost half of the New Testament.

He might well remember that Christians are encouraged in the Gospels to love thy neighbour as thyself.”

Off Air: Hate from people who should know better

The quotes above come from ABC journalist Tony Eastley, talking about the bile that’s been coming from a number of “pastors” in the states. I was left with this disturbing thought:

Maybe the rest of the world understand Christianity better than the Christians do.

The Tension of Individual Spirituality

I picked up a book from the Forge National Summit which I’d heard a little bit about: David Tacey’s “A Spirituality Revolution”. I’m only about a quarter of the way through, clinic and I’m not sure that I’ll end up reading it all – once I’ve got the “big idea” behind non-fiction books like that I tend to find that the rest is the much less interesting details – but there is something deeply intriguing about what Tacey describes and proposes.

David Tacey is a lecturer at LaTrobe University, and he is renowned for his first year spirituality subject where most of the classes are (according to my third hand source) just about having undergrad students talk about their feelings towards spirituality. From the undercurrents of those discussions, Tacey has done significant amounts of research and become quite the go-to-academic for study into spirituality in Australia – and specifically the trends in spirituality amongst young people.

Tacey holds that the trend away from organised religion has not coincided with a lack of interest in spirituality: quite the opposite. He believes that young people in particular in western societies are experiencing a re-invigoration in curiosity and exploration of spirituality, as people seek to account for the questions of spirit they are unable to find answers to in the scientific worldview. In many ways, because organised religion has become associated with the same “a+b=c” approach to spiritual matters it is dismissed out of hand by these new type of spiritualist seekers, because it fails to account for the personal, spiritual journey they find themselves on.

Tacey almost mourns our inability as the church (as well as other religions) to embrace what he calls “the mystery of the spirit”, instead choosing to rely on our systematic theology, and a rule based understanding of interaction with the Living God, which sells short the experience of interaction with the creator of the universe: reducing it to that which can be understood within the realms of human comprehension. Tacey seems to describe religion as being first about self-sustainability, rather than guiding and respecting the spiritual walk of the individual: particularly when the individual experience sits outside traditional parameters for understanding of interaction with God.

In a nutshell: he’s right. And wrong. There’s little doubt that churches: whether they Anglican, Catholic, Baptist or Vineyard; have failed at being accommodating and helpful for just about anyone who doesn’t sit within our (conservative) parameters for understanding God. Churches ought to be a place where questioning and probing is not seen as an indicator of immaturity, or just purely as a step towards “crossing the line” and becoming a Christian to be made into a clone of everyone else in church. Instead, questioning and curiosity must be a reflection of the natural reaction to encountering a mysterious God. It means not holding so closely to creeds and dogma that finding any truths about God not found in the church tradition is no longer considered a heresy. It means loosing our grip on the status and standing we have individually to show the humility to comprehend not having the full picture.

Ultimately this is not just what Tacey is prescribing, but the same call as that of Brian Mclaren, Campolo and (for my reading) C.S Lewis. And I like it – I think it makes beautiful sense and I think that if churches can actually start believing that the truth of Jesus lies not only in the hearts of its own tradition, but that the law of God is written on the hearts of all men – we might be able to learn some of what it is to draw close to God.

But there’s a flip-side, and it there is undoubtedly some real danger in the grounding behind some of these ideas; and I believe they open up the prospect of doing damage to the message of the kingdom of God. Because if we follow the path that Tacey would set out for us: to show almost limitless respect and reverence for the individual journey of all we encounter, we run the risk of falling into a cult of individualism, self-aggrandisement and pick-and-mix theology. That’s not to say that this is the only endpoint for such an approach

It seems to me that the only way to “respect the individual spiritual journey”, give space and credence to the inherent mystery of God, whilst remaining followers of Christ in much more than just name, is to do this thing in community. Not community in a “meeting together once a week for 2 hours”, but community that shares their experiences of encountering Jesus, shares their struggle and sacrificially serve one another.

If we can allow people, in that environment of living for one another in such a real way, help people to explore the mystery of who Jesus is, of who God is, and of the ways that his spirit does indeed live within us – we might end up leaving the religion behind and just be chasing after the kingdom of God.

(Disclaimer: I know that this is way too long, and that most of you won’t get through all of it. If you have – I appreciate you wading through my waffling!)